Up In The Mountains

The cruise 2018 collection of Louis Vuitton was shown amid the splendour of Japan’s Shiga Mountains, but this was no highland fling

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Louis Vuitton shang shan (上山 or went up the mountain) for its latest cruise collection—on the red pine-forested yama in Japan’s Shinga Prefecture, not far from the once-capital Kyoto. Many mountains in Asia—China, Korea, Japan—are sacred. Going up a mountain is usually associated with retreating to seek spiritual well-being. In ancient China, men roam the mountains in search of immortality and to purify the spirit. In Japan, Shinto shrines dot mountains to honour kami, the divine force of nature perched high.

LV’s staging of a fashion show in one of the most beautiful verdant peaks of Japan—at the stunning I.M. Pei-designed Miho Museum, next to a temple dedicated to the messianic sect of Shinji Shumeikai—is consistent with designer Nicolas Ghesquière’s love of uncommon architecture in exotic locales. It is no coincidence that adherents of Shumei, as the religion is mostly known, believe in the pursuit of beauty through art and celebration of nature, and the erecting of splendid buildings in secluded places to restore the balance that Earth has lost.

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This is the first time a fashion show is held on this spiritual ground. It isn’t clear if the expense—likely staggering—will bring the cruise collection to new heights, but as a standalone season, the cruise is becoming more and more important, so much so that Prada has joined the fray with its first cruise show (Miuccia Prada was reluctant to call it that) after a 5-year hiatus, staged in Milan last week.

Prada sent out a Prada collection—almost standard issue, you don’t sense that these are clothes for travel, not a whiff of holiday. This was not a wow one had hoped from a come-back event. Louis Vuitton, on the other hand, offered clothes that seem much more interesting, to the point that it is more impactful than its recent fall/winter 2017 collection. This is Mr Ghesquière in his element. It brought to mind his fall 2007 collection for Balenciaga that had so impressed us. We can’t say for certain why. Maybe it’s the layering, the patterns, the mix-and-match, the youthfulness, and the joie de vivre. Ten years on, Mr Ghesquière still enthralls.

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This collection is not, by any means, a hush as in the quiet of the mountain. In fact, it edges towards loud—not a ripple in the leaves, but crackle and pop on the ground. Showing in Japan, it is to be expected that Mr Ghesquière would be inspired by Nippon art and culture. But this isn’t an obvious dalliance with anime; this was, in part, collaboration with the master of print and patterns Kansai Yamamoto. Mr Yamamoto was a towering fashion figure in Tokyo in the ’70s and ’80s, with an international reputation hemmed by his designs of costumes for David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust.

Both designers do not revisit those outlandish threads of the British singer nor any of the bombastic embroidery that was seen on Mr Yamamoto’s past designs (hairdresser to MediaCorp stars David Gan was a fervent collector in the ’80s, so is Mr Ghesquière today). In fact, there is nothing retro in their take on traditional mask on sequined dresses and kabuki-esque eyes on handbags: these would just as easily float across the Cote d’Azur or Nusa Dua as any of LV’s Twist. This collaboration does show that the spirit of past designs can be revived without the need for evident homage or, worse, mindless ostentation.

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What the Cruise 2018 has going in its favour is the welcome ease of every outfit and a good dollop of street. Sure, this is one of Mr Ghesquière’s most visually busy collections for LV, but you don’t sense that even when you wear the look wholesale, you would appear decidedly foolish, or as parody of some TV sitcom, say, of the ’70s, the way it is with some OTT labels of today. Expectedly, Mr Ghesquière, like many designers of his generation, was inspired by the ’70s—this time, Stray Cat Rock, a five-part, go-go-era Japanese film that starred the major femme fatale Kaji Meiko (Japan’s Chan Po-Chu?) as a kick-ass heroine (her titular role in Toshiya Fujita’s Lady Snowblood reportedly inspired Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill). Her cool style—including wide-brim hats that she wore in Stray Cat Rock—and nonchalant chic are obviously identifiable to Mr Ghesquière. This is definitely not the Japan of Cio-Cio-San.

We are drawn to the layering that yearned colour-blocking , the landscape prints and brocades (in some pieces, they were pants paired with punk-ish tops), comic patterns that could have been coloured wood-block prints, vest that seemed informed by Samurai armour (we now fondly recall Issey Miyake’s “rattan body” of 1982), the off-beat pairings (such as evening dresses worn with T-shirts and leggings), the oddly proportioned blazers (oversized, rounded shoulders, and nipped-in waists!). As we saw, some stray cats do rock.

Photos: Louis Vuitton


Here Comes Pretty Green

Pretty Green AW 2015Images from Pretty Green’s AW 2015 campaign. Photos: Pretty Green

Pretty Green, one of Britain’s most attitude-heavy labels, has arrived on our shores. The name may sound like an environmentalist’s rallying call, but it’s a lot further from ecological causes than the name suggests. Launched in June 2009 by Oasis front man Noel Gallagher, Pretty Green is a youth-oriented line that looks to Britain’s rock and roll tradition of yore for inspiration. These are clothes that you can imagine Mr Gallangher and his ex-band mates wearing. You can imagine yourself in them too.

Pretty Green made its appearance in Isetan Scotts last month at a newly conceived corner called iEdit. While iEdit comes from a tiring naming convention (made even less exceptional with the presence of women’s wear label iBlues just one floor below), it does try to say something about Isetan’s attempt at differentiating itself from other department stores by bringing in labels that are moderately on the side of cool.

Pretty Green could just be the brand to elevate the standing of the lacklustre store even when the new brand’s offerings bear a resemblance to another British label across the same floor: Fred Perry. While both bank on their London origins and their affinity to the mod subculture of the Sixties in the UK for sartorial excitement, they are really as similar as Noel and Liam Gallangher.

Despite the indie-rock cred Mr Gallager brings to the brand, Pretty Green—named after a song by The Jam—has an appeal that’s pro-everyday bloke. It’s not as ordinary as Ben Sherman, but it isn’t as innovative as Folk. The stuff that bring a smile to your face are unusual colour pairings and prints of indeterminate origins. You’ll find all the basic stuff in the collection, too: T-shirts, polos, and shirts… except, maybe, cardigans. As Mr Gallangher once said, “I have got a bit of an issue with cardigans. They’re shit, aren’t they?”

At our first visit to the Pretty Green store in London’s Carnaby Street back in 2011, we were charmed by the interior’s indie-music vibe (we can’t remember if any Oasis songs were played). Despite the relative smallness of the place, it felt like the open wardrobe of a very cool, guitar-totting star.

…and Kansai Yamamoto!

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Just two of the meek collection of Kansai Yamamoto T-Shirts at Isetan Scotts

In the Seventies and early Eighties, he was one of the biggest names in Japanese fashion… and the flashiest too. Kansai Yamamoto’s loud, sometimes lurid, graphics predated Jeremy’s Scott’s nearly-as-similar gaudiness. His screaming aesthetics caught the attention of David Bowie during the latter’s Ziggy Stardust period. That led to Mr Yamamoto designing some of Mr Bowie’s most iconic stage costumes.

However, all that flamboyance isn’t evident at Isetan’s resurrection of Kansai Yamamoto, the label. Available during the current Japan Express retail event, the line comprises of only T-shirts and three cotton-canvas tote bags, all hung on one single rack. The T-shirts, for both men and women, do not sport the typical attention-grabbing Japanese graphic Mr Yamamoto is known for. In fact, you will fail to notice the mere hints of what the designer used to communicate. Odd, considering that, with the likes of KTZ and Hood by Air, consumers are devouring eye-catching images and prints like never before.

Kansai Yamamoto, 71, was considered one of the earliest Japanese to show overseas, debuting in London in 1971 and in Paris in 1975. His clothes may not have been as commercially successful as those by his compatriots that showed later, but they were especially appealing to those in the music industry (Marc Bolan and Elton John were fans too), as well as those who cannot derive enough from clothes unless they have the same visual shrill as kabuki costumes. As the unrestrained excesses of the Seventies gave way to the controlled glamour of the Eighties, Mr Yamamoto’s popularity faded. Eventually, he bowed out of fashion to design costumes and for the stage: to note were the mega-entertainment productions, such as his own multi-disciplinary Super Shows.

Kansai Yamamoto @ V&AKansai Yamamoto in full form at the V&A’s Fashion in Motion

Mr Yamamoto made a comeback of sorts in 2013 at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum with a show Fashion in Motion. In January this year, Isetan Tokyo opened a Kansai Yamamoto pop-up shop in its Shinjuku flagship, featuring “tribute designers” interpreting Kansai Yamamoto’s dramatic aesthetics. At the event, David Bowie’s unmistakable jumpsuit for his Aladdin Sane tour of 1973 was on display, among other memorabilia. Going by Japanese media accounts, it was one of the New Year highlights of 2013. Regrettably, with Isetan’s meek selection, ours will not be the highlight of the year’s end.

Pretty Green, from S$89, and Kansai Yamamoto T-shirts, S$230, are available at Isetan Scotts